With any election, there are winners and losers beyond just the names on the ballot, and that is especially true when it comes to a race that captures the national spotlight like the Alabama Senate race.
Winner: Democrats, in the short term. Obviously, winning an election while under this big of a spotlight is great for the Democrats. They’ll likely see a short term fundraising bump and getting the “W” — the Democrats’ first win in an Alabama Senate election since 1992 — will boost the spirits of liberal activists.
Loser: Democrats, in the long term. With Moore out of the national political scene, the Democrats lose a punching bag. Look at what happened after former Rep. Todd Akin’s (R-MO) “legitimate rape” comments during the 2012 election: the Democrats demanded that every single Republican answer for Akin’s idiotic comments that year, but after Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) easily defeated his bid to unseat her, Akin’s use as a Democratic weapon disintegrated.
With this Alabama Senate race happening on its own in an off year, Moore’s potential damage to other Republicans is much more limited. Democrats and liberal media allies will still try to pin Moore on Republicans — especially those foolish enough to have endorsed him — but this weapon will not cut as deeply as it would if Moore were in the Senate.
Alabama also remains a deeply red state. When Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whose appointment to AG opened up the Senate seat in the first place, last ran in 2014, he was essentially unopposed, taking 97.3% of the vote versus a Democratic write-in candidate. The last time he had to fight for the seat was in 2008, and he waltzed to victory with 63.36% of the vote.
Jones won this time because Moore was an absolutely horrific candidate. Virtually any other Republican with a pulse would have beaten Jones by double digits. I’m actually not even convinced that a pulse is necessary: the Alabama GOP might be able to paint a smiley face on a rock and nominate that in 2020 and still win.
Loser: Donald Trump. It’s quite a feat for a Republican to be a loser in both the primary and the general election in Alabama, but Trump managed to do just that, backing current placeholder Sen. Luther Strange in the primary and coming out strong for Moore in the final weeks of the campaign. Trump held a raucous rally in Pensacola (in Florida, but overlapping with the Alabama media markets) the weekend before the election and recorded a robocall urging Alabama Republicans to cast their votes for Moore.
As Caleb Howe pointed out, Trump didn’t just endorse voting for his party’s nominee, he came out strong for Moore himself. Trump went all in for Moore and thereby took ownership of the whole sordid mess, plus this forced the party’s hand into resuming support (see below discussion of the RNC).
Trump initially tweeted a (shockingly!) gracious note of congratulations to Jones on Tuesday evening, but resumed a more familiar tone Wednesday morning, denying responsibility for Moore’s loss:
The reason I originally endorsed Luther Strange (and his numbers went up mightily), is that I said Roy Moore will not be able to win the General Election. I was right! Roy worked hard but the deck was stacked against him!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 13, 2017
In the end, the president is left with an embarrassing, avoidable loss on his watch, diminished political capital, and petulant tweets whining about how it’s not his fault. Are you tired of all the winning yet?
Loser: Steve Bannon. The head honcho at Breitbart notably backed Moore in the primary, even though Trump backed Strange. Bannon was pushing Moore from the beginning, and is widely viewed as being chiefly responsible for Trump’s increasingly vocal support for the beleaguered candidate. Other than Moore himself, no one owns this loss more than Bannon.
After the accusations of sexual misconduct against Moore were first reported, many expected Trump to stay on the sidelines. Instead, at Bannon’s urging, Trump went all-in for Moore. This loss leaves Trump with depleted political capital — the president’s celebrity influence wasn’t enough to get a Republican elected in Alabama — and Bannon’s strategy is to blame.
Just the fact that the race was close at all was blamed squarely on the many faults and foibles of Bannon’s chosen candidate. It’s hard to throw your weight around as a strategic mastermind when it’s your lousy strategy that puts Alabama at play.
Consider for a moment the magnitude of Steve Bannon’s genius. Not every man can make an AL senate race close. Steve Bannon can.
— David French (@DavidAFrench) December 13, 2017
Senate Leadership Fund, the Super PAC arm of the Senate Republicans, wasted little time pinning the blame on Bannon. SLF President (and former chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell) Steven Law released a statement slamming Bannon for “cost[ing] us a critical Senate seat in one of the most Republican states in the country.”
🔥 from Senate Leadership Fund. pic.twitter.com/6ZeGlRwjDS
— Alex Seitz-Wald (@aseitzwald) December 13, 2017
Add in Bannon’s own public campaign stumping for Moore, where he made a variety of oddball comments, most notably attempting to insult the University of Alabama, a profoundly idiotic move in a state where people regularly name their dogs and their children — even their daughters! — after legendary Bama football coach Bear Bryant.
Loser: The RNC/GOP Establishment. After initially pulling out of a joint fundraising agreement with the Moore campaign, the RNC jumped back into the race at the eleventh hour, a move viewed by many as bat-guano crazy. Presumably done to placate the president, who had endorsed Moore, the money the RNC poured into Alabama during the final days of the campaign not only failed to secure a victory, but will make it harder for the GOP to distance themselves from Moore.
This move also may prove to be a stumbling block with GOP donors, already uneasy in the Trump era and not fond of pouring good money after bad. If you’re a high level donor and the RNC asks you for a big check, does the way they spent money in Alabama give you confidence your money will be well spent? Hardly.
Bannon may be the big loser, but the GOP establishment he professes to despise didn’t come out of this smelling like roses. Despite all the accusations about nefarious establishment schemes, the Alabama Senate race revealed that they don’t really have much power to control the current wild political winds.
Much of the Republican power structure pushed heavily for Strange in the primary, rightfully viewing Moore as too much of a live wire, but also passing over Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), a Congressman with a reliably conservative voting record. Like Trump’s victory in the 2016 GOP Presidential primary, a crowded primary of nearly a dozen candidates helped a controversial candidate like Moore divide enough votes to win, even though over sixty percent of Alabama Republican primary votes preferred someone else.
Add in RNC’s awkward dance as they ducked out of the race and then jumped back in, and the party’s governing structure looks more like a rough draft of a Three Stooges sketch than anything capable of brilliant political machinations.
Loser: Any Republican who endorsed Moore. Even before the allegations about his creepy behavior towards teenage girls, Moore had a long history of controversial comments regarding race, religion, and women; had supported Trump’s asinine birther conspiracies about Obama; and had been removed from the bench not once but twice for refusing to follow the law and honor rulings by courts superior to his.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) may have revoked his endorsement after the sexual misconduct allegations (as did Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT)), but it’s still questionable for a constitutional law expert like Cruz to support Moore despite his repeated acts of disrespect for constitutional principles and the rule of law.
Republicans have dodged a bullet with Moore’s loss in that they won’t have to continually answer for whatever obnoxious or legally incorrect comments he would have made as a United States Senator, but those who endorsed him will likely still catch some flak for it, especially if they failed to revoke their endorsement. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) was noticeably quiet in the final stretch of the campaign, refusing to say if he still supported Moore. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) even campaigned for Moore at a rally the day before the election.
Winner: Republicans who refused to support Moore. This includes Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), although since he’s not running for reelection, it’s a bit of a meaningless victory. Flake’s election night tweet (“Decency wins”) is getting some attention, but again, without any obvious electoral future for him, it’s not clear what benefit that brings him other than personal satisfaction (which must be quite high at the moment).
— Jeff Flake (@JeffFlake) December 13, 2017
Far more meaningful is Sen. Ben Sasse’s (R-NE) situation: Sasse took the position of opposing Moore but also refusing to support Jones, based on the issue of abortion. This helped preserve his credibility among certain conservatives, and Sasse heads towards 2020 with his reputation intact as an independent-minded conservative willing to publicly criticize Trumplican excesses.
Likewise, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), who called on Moore to step down and quit the race, and former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA), who was a vocal critic of Moore and called him unfit for office, are looking pretty good. Other Republicans who called on Moore to quit the race include Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who called Moore a “bridge too far” even before the allegations surfaced.
Look, I'm sorry, but even before these reports surfaced, Roy Moore's nomination was a bridge too far.
— Senator Bob Corker (@SenBobCorker) November 11, 2017
Winner: White House staffers desperate to reduce Bannon’s influence. Keeping Trump focused and calm is a Herculean task. Multiple news reports have reported on the frustrations and anxieties of his closest advisers as they attempt to guide him, and Bannon’s scorched-earth approach to politics unsurprisingly is out of harmony with their efforts.
If there’s one thing that’s clear about Trump, it’s that he hates to lose, and Bannon just led him to a very public loss under a very bright spotlight. Next time there’s a strategic battle in the White House, Bannon’s ability to steer Trump his direction will likely hit some major roadblocks.
Loser: Sen. Al Franken (D-MN). After multiple women accused the former Saturday Night Live comedian of sexual harassment and forcibly kissing and/or groping them, Franken was urged to resign, eventually even by his fellow Democrats. Last week, he made a “less than contrite” apology and said that he would be stepping down from his Senate seat, taking swipes at Trump and Moore in his comments.
Franken and the other Democrats were clearly trying to present him as the morally upstanding one, arguing that what Franken did wasn’t as bad as the accusations against Moore or Trump, but Franken was leaving and they were staying.
Franken was noticeably squirrelly about giving an exact date for his resignation, leading some to speculate that he might renege on his announced resignation if Moore won, perhaps claiming that he couldn’t be expected to resign if Moore was joining the Senate.
But since Moore lost, Franken’s moral preening is exposed for what it is, and his last plausible defense for keeping his Senate seat has dissolved.
Winner: Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL). Moore’s loss meant that Alabama’s other Republican senator is able to avoid the awkward situation of having to serve in the Senate with a fellow Republican he refused to support. Shelby criticized Moore publicly multiple times to the media, including telling Jake Tapper shortly before election day that he had refused to vote for Moore and instead cast a write-in ballot for another Republican (possibly Strange, who he endorsed in the primary, but Shelby refused to clarify).
It’s impossible to quantify the impact of Shelby’s announcement of his write-in vote, but due to the timing right before election day and the fact that the number of write-in votes exceeds Jones’ margin of victory over Moore, it should be viewed as a serious factor. (It should also be noted that there was nothing else on the ballot, so for thousands of Alabamians to take the time to cast a ballot and chose a write-in candidate is a fairly stunning rebuke of Moore.)
Shelby also is not up for reelection until 2022, having just won reelection last year by a very comfortable 64% to 36% margin.
Loser: Republicans who support the tax bill. Currently, Republicans have a narrow 52-48 majority in the Senate. The plan is to pass the tax bill using the reconciliation process, which requires at least 50 votes (in the event of a tie, Vice President Mike Pence casts the deciding vote, and presumably would support the Republicans). Right now, Senate Republicans can afford only two defections and still pass the bill, no easy task when there are still major disagreements about the bill.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) in particular has already voiced demands that do not appear to be in the latest draft of the bill. Senate Republican leadership may find themselves furiously offering bargaining chips to moderates like Collins, while trying to keep more conservative members from bailing.
And they have mere days to get this done.
Jones is expected to be sworn in near the end of the month, after the Alabama Secretary of State certifies the votes. (Note: Despite Moore’s refusal to concede, the current margin of victory is over three times the threshold for an automatic recount. The Moore campaign does have the right to pay for a recount themselves, but it is likely to be prohibitively expensive, and no rational person expects the results to change.)
Add in the Christmas holidays, and the schedule is even more stressed. Once Jones in sworn in, it would only take one defector for the tax bill to fail in the Senate. Bottom line: the path forward for this bill just got a lot steeper and rockier.
Winner: #NeverTrump. Those of us who have been warning of the detrimental effect of prioritizing “making liberals mad!” over sound conservative principles, and the dangers of attempting to excuse profound moral failings as being “politically incorrect” are vindicated by this loss. This race featured many of the same dynamics as the 2016 presidential election, with a Democratic candidate whose position on abortion was too extreme for conservatives, but a Republican candidate with a problematic record on racial and religious bigotry, a disrespect for the rule of law, and a predilection for autocracy.
Winner: Rick Wilson. One of the most vocal Trump critics since he entered the presidential race in 2015, Wilson has been just as vicious in his condemnation of Moore. Besides his large Twitter and Periscope audiences and television appearances, Wilson also was behind several powerful ads that ran during the critical last few days of the campaign, working to convince Alabama Republicans to reject Moore.
I've made a lot of ads in my time.
I'm damn proud this spot we produced for Stand Up Republic was on the was on the air in Alabama.
— Rick Wilson (@TheRickWilson) December 13, 2017
Loser: Whoever was running the @RoyMooresHorse Twitter account. The account picked up over 15,000 followers in a day after Moore arrived to vote on horseback, and had a number of witty, all caps tweets written in the voice of a horse that was clearly not a Moore fan.
I DID NOT CHOOSE THIS LIFE.
PLEASE, IF HE WINS HE WILL RIDE ME INTO WASHINGTON AND I AM SCARED OF CARS.
— Roy Moore's Horse (@RoyMooresHorse) December 12, 2017
Now that Moore has lost, it’s a lot harder to sustain the joke. The horse seems to be fine, though:
I AM OVERJOYED TO BE SO SUDDENLY IRRELEVANT
— Roy Moore's Horse (@RoyMooresHorse) December 13, 2017
Loser: The people of Texas’ 18th Congressional District. They’re still represented by a moron. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee was first elected to the Houston-area district in 1994, and has distinguished herself with a long series of idiotic comments, including comparing the tea party to the KKK and complaining that hurricane names were “too white.” This tweet, where she mixes up the names of the candidates, is par for the course.
Loser: Editorial cartoonists. Roy Moore is waaaaay funnier to draw than Doug Jones, and with his penchant for saying nutty things, he’s a political cartoonist’s dream. Alas, he’s probably going to inspire only a few more days’ worth.
— Mike Peters (@mikebpeters) December 13, 2017
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter: @rumpfshaker.